Healthwatch: Search for a Cure

Ronald Reagan's 1994 announcement that he suffered from Alzheimer's disease highlighted the importance of finding ways to stop it.

Yet ten years later, scientists are still debating over what causes the disease. Paul Thompson uses brain imaging to study Alzheimer's.

"We think Alzheimer's has several causes, although the actual or cause is unknown," said Thompson of the UCLA Laboratory for Neuroimaging. "You can be at genetic risk for it. There might be different chemicals in the body that actually control your risk for getting Alzheimer's."

What scientists do know is that Alzheimer's patients build up brain-clogging plaques made of a substance called Amyloid .

"They're really tough. They're resistant to detergents. They're resistant to salts. They're resistant to freezing or boiling, and they're resistant to organic solvents," said Susan Lindquist of the Whitehead Institute.

Lindquist's team at the Whitehead Institute reported in the Journal Science that it found a protein that can dissolve Amyloid plaques. This could lead to methods of clearing out these plaques in an Alzheimer's brain.

But whether or not this would help patients is still disputed. Researchers see the most Amyloid buildup in the more advanced stages of Alzheimer's, mostly in older people such as Ronald Reagan who died at 93.

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